Witnesses testify about pros, cons of Sunday liquor sales

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- A state House committee heard testimony Tuesday on legislation allowing Texas liquor stores to open on Sunday but a statewide association representing hundreds of package stores registered opposition to the measure.

In a hearing before the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, supporters said a bill by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson would generate millions in state revenue and remove one of the last vestiges of Texas "blue laws," the never-on-Sunday restrictions once imposed on a wide swath of Texas retailers.

Texans can sip mixed drinks at bars and restaurants on Sunday and can run to the grocery store to buy beer and wine, but the state's 2,500 liquor stores have been forced to close on Sundays under a decades-old law.

"You ought to be able to tote your distilled spirits home just like you tote your beer and wine," Thompson, D-Houston, told fellow committee members.

But Lance Lively, president of the Texas Package Store Association, said the bill is widely unpopular among the 900 liquor stores represented by his organization. A poll in advance of this year's legislative session showed that 90 percent of the membership opposed the measure, he told committee members.

The additional overhead and expenses of staying open an extra day would offset any potential earnings, he said. Lively also dismissed supporters' arguments that retailers would have the option of continuing to open six days a week.

"One store's open, the rest of them are going to have to be open," he said. "It's about customer service. You don't want to lose that customer maybe because you want to take a day off and the guy down the street wants to be open."

Under Thompson's bill, a retail package store could open from noon until 10 Sunday. The bill would also extend liquor store hours the other the six days of the week, allowing them to open at 9 a.m, an earlier than now, and closer at 10 p.m., an hour later

It would also repeal a provision prohibiting the retail sale of liquor the Monday after a Christmas Day or New Year's Day that falls on a Sunday.

Thompson said the current prohibition puts liquor stores at a competitive disadvantage with other elements of the alcoholic beverage industry. She read a letter of support from conservative libertarian Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who called her proposal a "smart, pro-growth bill."

Economic benefits

Supporters also touted the economic benefits of the bill, citing a Legislative Budget Board analysis that a full seven days of liquor store sales would generate $8.4 billion over the next two fiscal years.

Consultant Billy Hamilton, a former revenue estimator in the state comptroller's office, pegged the economic potential at $5.3 million to $12 million a year. He called the current prohibition on Sunday liquor operations "a nonsensical law" that stands in the way of business growth.

Ed Cooper of Total Wine and More, which describes itself as "America's wine superstore," also supported the bill, saying stores could choose whether to stay open and maintain extended hours. He called it "a fairness issue."

Dale Szyndrowski, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, which represents producers in the United States and abroad, said the bill would let liquor stores stay open an additional 22 hours each week. "We want to the have the opportunity to compete," he said.

Committee members will decide whether to advance the bill to the House floor.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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